Tips for Creating Effective Mood Boards

Being a graphic designer requires a certain level of telepathy to fully understand a client’s vision before starting a project. Unfortunately there isn’t a Skillshare class on mind reading (correction: there was, but it’s since been removed). So using mood boards is the next best way to visually communicate ideas between parties and ensure everyone is on the same page before getting too deep into a design.

Mood boards have been such a helpful part of my process, for clients that know exactly what they want and for those that need a little help making sense of the ideas in their head. So I’ve written up some tips for making mood boards and a step-by-step of how I go about creating them.

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Quick Tips

✳︎ Gather inspiration from all sorts of places

Search online (I use these sites: Pinterest, Dribbble, Behance, Designspiration, Tumblr, Flickr), browse through books, and look around your environment. Go out and take your own photos, browse through the stuff you have in your own home, peruse the shelves at the store.

When I designed the vinyl album art for Being As An Ocean’s Dear G-d…, I pulled out my parent’s old record collection and spent an hour observing design trends, font styles, textures, etc. The back of that album was actually based off a tattered copy of The Eagles’ The Long Run. When I rebranded a nearby neighborhood, I drove around and took photos of the retro building signs, architecture, and preexisting artwork in the community (murals, paintings on electric boxes, etc). Inspiration is everywhere, so think outside your computer!

✳︎ Focus more on styles vs final designs

It’s good to include some examples of similar design styles, but avoid filling your entire mood board with other designer’s work. Be inspired by similar styles, but don’t set yourself up to imitate these designs. However, if you find yourself inspired by a design, save it. One of my past instructors used to tell us to save every design we took note of that way we could reference back to them and make sure we didn’t subconsciously copy it. Keeping a private Pinterest board is great for this.

Instead of only referencing other designs, seek out different mediums. When I’m putting together a mood board for a logo design, I don’t just look for other logo designs. I gather photographs, illustrations, book covers, patterns, textures, etc that all convey the style I’m going for.

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Process of Creating a Mood Board

01. Start with keywords that describe the project

Sometimes they’re literal – either related to the brand name, the product, or target audience (for example, bison and jerky were literal keywords for The Dapper Bison); while other times they’re more conceptual (words like rustic, masculine, and adventurous).

02. Search for images that represent the literal keywords

I usually use these as my main images. For example, for The Dapper Bison, my main images were of a bison, a jar of jerky, and a well-dressed gentleman. These main photos helped drive the vibe of the mood board.

03. Next find secondary supporting images

Look for photos, textures, patterns, lettering styles, etc that encompass the conceptual words, and also match or compliment the style of the main image.

04. Notice color trends between the images

Colors are packed full of meaning and have a huge impact on the mood. These sites have some great info on the psychology of color: Symbolism of Color | Color Meaning

05. Look for other images related to that color

Lucky for us, there are people on Pinterest who obsessively organize images in boards based entirely on color. Search for your particular color, select Boards, and browse through the multitude of images strictly in that color. Pick ones that further enhance the overall style of your mood board and carryout the keywords.

06. Reflect on your findings

As I search for inspiration, I throw everything into a private Pinterest board to later make sense of. Some of the images I was originally inspired by won’t get used because they either don’t work with the others, or they just don’t represent the brand like I originally thought.

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07. Ask Why?

If you want to be more than just a pixel pusher, your design decisions need to have purpose. Ask why certain images inspire you or your client, or why they help influence the overall style of the mood board. For example, in my most recent moodboard, my client and I included a specific book cover because we loved the oxblood color, the Old Style serif all uppercase lettering, and the fact that the floral elements mixed in with the medieval weapons felt strong and powerful yet feminine. All of these observations helped influence the final brand.

08. Put it all together

There are many ways to assemble a mood board, but I personally choose to lay them out in a stylized grid in Photoshop. Use varying sizes to establish visual hierarchy – make the most important images larger and keep the secondary supporting images smaller. For more on that, check out 6 Principles of Visual Hierarchy For Designers.


I could write a whole nother post about crediting, but if you’re going to share your moodboard online, give credit for the original works! Correct sources aren’t often easily available on Pinterest (again, I’ll save that for another rant), so Google image reverse search is your best option. Right click the image > Copy Image Address > Go to Google image search > Select the camera icon in the search bar > Paste the image URL and search. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the source of the original image on the first page. If not, you’ll have to do a bit of sleuthing.

Hope this helps some of you! If you aren’t already, give mood boarding a try. They’re not only useful for communicating ideas in the beginning, but they’re also a fun way to get into the groove of your project.

2 comments on “Tips for Creating Effective Mood Boards

  1. Pingback: Free Moodboard Templates | Stuck with Pins

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